Interview with Bar-Lev, part 3


PK: So did you have particular filmmakers that inspired you to want to make movies?

ABL: Yeah, I had Werner Herzog.

PK: I would guess Herzog actually.

ABL: Yeah, I like his films, narrative or documentary. I watch a lot of documentaries.

PK: It feels sort of  "Grizzly Man" in a way.

ABL: Tell me how you see that.

PK: It's about a guy who doesn't fit in with society and he wants to make contact with a wilder part of nature and he ends up dying and it seems like he's really stupid. But in the case of Tillman he's not seen that way for throwing away all this money and getting killed on a meaningless incident in Afghanistan but instead he's lauded as a hero.

ABL: I think there's a lot of psychology at work also. I think there's character issues. Like when you see those generals [Army generals involved in the cover-up of the real circumstances of Tillman's death, including Stanley McChrystal].

I see that scene as so much about personal character rather than about politics or military intrigue. They have lionized a guy who wasn't perfect, wasn't superhuman, but was a truthful person that came from a family that valued truth telling. They are emblematic of some part of our time that people don't know the difference anymore. It's just spin or advertising or being persuasive or something. Also, one of the interesting things about this story is that one of Pat Tillman's greatest qualities was his self confidence. And self confidence is very hard trait for people to admire. You can kind of give lip service to self confidence. But most of us are not self confident. So self confident people intimidate the fuck out of us.

PK: You want to see them screw up.

ABL: Or we have to skew their qualities into something we can own, that reflect well on us. Rather than something that is not really a learned thing. So you have these  deeply insecure people who are taking Pat Tillman and in an almost Greek way inverting all of his qualities. He was a guy who was deeply thoughtful and curious and asked and had ideas and would challenge himself to think of things in the opposite way. So they turned him into this paragon of moral certitude. In so many ways they take his actual heroism out of the story. He saved a guy's life. How did he save his life? He told him to quit praying, get your head in this world. And that likely saved Bryan O'Neal's life.

PK: Is he still praying?

ABL: He lost his religion for a while on account of this and then refound it.

PK: The film showed at Sundance along with "Restrepo." Do you think there's a renewed interest in that war? It seems like people try to forget that it even existed.

ABL: I think that's going on. And there's another thing that the two films have in common which I think is that...We're just in a very different place than we were when Pat Tillman enlisted. The country, you know, I'm not quite sure I can say anything about that. We didn't set out to make an anti-war film. We set out to make an anti-myth film. I didn't want to take a position on whether we should be in Afghanistan or not, or whether we should have gone to Iraq or not for a number of reasons. One, I think that's a part of Pat Tillman's story, but I think it would make the film too topical. To me, what was done to Pat Tillman, I mean, of course the perpetrators were in the Bush administration. But to me, this was a story that I wanted to have resonance that was a lot more timeless than that. That had to do with things that have been happening since the time of Wittgenstein and since the time of the Iliad. My dad has been reading the Iliad and the Odyssey and I'd talk to him and he was really struck by the parallels. It's a very old story, that warriors are glorified. That the truth of war is shrouded in this golden patina. I didn't want to people to be able to dismiss this and say, oh, it was those five people in the Bush administration's fault. I'm not saying they're not culpable. I think it lies in the media and lies in the culture at large. It lies in Hollywood too.

A lot of the story is about Hollywood. The very first thing the family was told by the government when they were told it was friendly fire, and Dannie asked some questions, they were told, "Look this is like the very first scene in "Saving Private Ryan."  And it was just this great postmodern moment with the military referencing Hollywood which is supposed to be referencing the military. And you think, wow, it's something that goes all the way back from the beginning of time. Men have learned what war is through stories. It's the chicken or the egg thing. The stories obfuscate what war really is. And then people model war on the stories and it just goes on and on and on. So that when people are coming out of a canyon [the site of Tillman's death], I feel like they're thinking of themselves as movie characters.


PK: I always thought it was like a videogame.

ABL: I completely agree.

PK: Are you working on another movie now?

ABL: No, I've got a bunch of ideas, so we'll see which one really happens. I've been away for like two and a half months.

PK: In Vietnam.

ABL: Yeah, in Cambodia, Laos. We figured it was our last chance. Once your kids are walking it gets hard to do that.

PK: Did that inspire you to make any movie about the other wars?

ABL: I mean, the ten year anniversary for 9/11 is coming up and I think there's a film there about that moment in time. Remember the whole "Irony is dead" thing? And we'll never watch horror movies again and it's the end of reality TV. I think it would be very interesting to explore that.

PK: The Obama administration now, it seems to be very low key with the anniversary coming up as compared to how it would be with the Bush administration.

ABL: Yeah, 9/11 was fetishized. It's sort of a death cult. And that applies to Pat Tillman. Pat Tillman was worth more dead to America than alive. It's a maudlin fascination with his death just like it is with 9/11. You know, like, where you were that day?

PK: Where were you?

ABL: I was in LA. And obviously these are horrible tragedies. To me it breaks down to, you have this exchange between Jon Stewart reporting what Glenn Beck said. Glenn Beck said "Remember how you felt on 9/12?" And Jon Stewart said, "Yeah, scared shitless." That's it right there. People get off on tragedy. It's very disgusting. You see that in the way they deal with Pat Tillman's death. 

PK: It's sort of a way to deal with fear. Everybody's reaction is complete horror. Then anger at the fact that we were shown as being so impotent. So you have other  film ideas?

ABL: I'm in the process of optioning a friend's memoir about LA in the late 90s. It's kind of an internet story, but it's more than that, it's a story of friendship.

PK: A documentary?

ABL:I can't decide, for a long time I thought it was a narrative film. But now I'm thinking it's more of a documentary. Have you ever seen "The Devil and Daniel Johnston?" They found a guy who was kind of crazy and they've got a comedy central pilot based on him.


PK: What myth do we have here?

ABL: It's the blurring of distinctions between genius and madness. And the idea, you know, that "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" touches on it, and "Man On the Moon" touches on it. Just this adulation of people that are unstable. And how horrible it is for them. And it's romanticized.

PK: The genius and madness thing doesn't work out too well for people who are mad.

ABL: That's a better way of putting it. I don't know whether that's going to happen though. For a while I've been wanting to make a Grateful Dead documentary. [it looks like he will be making this as a feature film] There's a movie to be made there.


PK: I've read that you're inspired by their methods of performing. Sometimes that doesn't work that well.

ABL: The funny thing about being a Dead Head is that it's like being a sports fan. They're not always going to have a good day. It was a social phenomenon that would make an interesting film...

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